Their marriage was arranged but their desire wasn't . . .
After two years, Grayson Bridlington, the Earl of Hawkeswell, has found his missing bride, Verity Thompson. Coerced into marrying Hawkeswell by her duplicitous cousin, Verity fled London on her wedding to reside with friends in the country. Now the couple must make the most of their arranged marriage, even if it means dealing with a shared desire . . .
Verity Thompson is the daughter of an industrialist who died when she was only half grown, and her care and guardianship was given into the hand of a cousin and his wife, people who were greedy and ambitious, who resented Verity's inheriting her father's business and his money. They treated her with disdain and cruelty and even when arranging a marriage with the Earl of Hawkeswell, an aristocrat of ancient lineage but little fortune to maintain his properties and to support his family, they essentially blackmailed her into the marriage by threatening some of her closest friends with loss of home and hearth. Following the marriage ceremony, Verity learns that her cousin has not been true to his oath and has carried out the heinous acts anyway out of shear cruelty. Since the "bargain" has been violated, Verity ran from the marriage, intending to apply for annulment and to present a financial "deal" to the Earl which would give him some of her trust fund in perpetuity while retaining her independence and influence over her father's industrial legacy.
The Earl of Hawkesville was indeed a consummate aristocrat, but his interest in Verity's money was not something out of the ordinary, but was not for the maintenance of his rich lifestyle so much as it was for the preservation of his properties and the livelihood of those families who had depended on his family for generations. Because they had never found Verity's body, she was never declared dead, so the Earl had never received any portion of Verity's fortune. He has made no bones about his reasons for marrying, and even after finding Verity alive and living with friends in Middlesex, he is unwilling to allow annulment in any form. His growing desire for her and for the consummation of the marriage continues to wreck havoc with even his more philanthropic urges to grant Verity her independence. As he uncovers the truth of her cousin's cruelty, as he becomes more and more informed about her cousin's greed and ambition that was working against the long-term prosperity of her father's business, Hawkewell begins to realize that Verity is important to him for herself as well as one who cares deeply for her father's employees and for the well-being of her childhood friends who had extended the only kindness she had known in her lonely growing-up years.
Madeline Hunter is a truly experienced writer who has a gift for telling a good story. This is the second in a series, and while I am only just now reading the first book, Ravishing in Red, this is not a difficult series to begin reading out of sequence. The characters are believable and their presence in the story is balanced and in proportion to the other persons in the tale. Hawkeswell is a very interesting character--a man who knows his place in society but who has moved past the wildness of his early youth and takes seriously the responsibilities his title and holdings are placing on him. He feels deeply that the families who depend on him for their welfare are being made to suffer because of the bad behavior of his father and grandfather, and wants to change the direction of his life and theirs for the foreseeable future. He shows great patience with Verity, even as he seeks to change her opinion of him. His attempts to expose the perfidy of her cousin is the mark of a man who values his own honor and reputation. Under his sharp exterior lies the heart of a kind and loving man.
Verity becomes more and more likable for me as the story unfolds. At first I thought of her as just a stubborn and intractable young woman, set and determined to do "her own thing" and convinced that no person of aristocratic bent could be interested in her for any reason other than her money. She insists that Hawkeswell was in on the "con" that got her into the marriage in the first place. However, as Hawkeswell consistently and patiently refuses to allow her to run, is caring and concerned for her welfare, allows her to travel to her old home and be with her long-time friends, and acquiesces to her need to help other young women who have been misused and abused, Verity begins to experience a change in attitude toward her husband, seeing beneath his rather gruff exterior, owning up to her own rather hefty physical response to his masculinity, and ultimately allows the marriage to be consummated. There is still lots to learn about each other as their marriage moves toward a loving relationship.
I like Hunter's writing and I liked this book. It is written in the classic Regency style, but there is a freshness here that is almost always present in Hunter's writing. Several of Verity's friends have considerable presence in this story and will have their own stories in the future. Lovers of historical romantic fiction will find lots to like in this series and in this book in particular. I give this book a rating of 4.5 out of 5.